Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Islam and the Power of the Press

We have a small Muslim community in Santa Barbara.  There is a student organization at the University of Santa Barbara and a single mosque that currently does weekly prayers at the Goleta Community Center.  They've been trying to build a proper mosque for about 10 years... so goes building in this area of California compounded by the fact that it is a mosque...

It is a wonderful community of people.  Because it is the only mosque and the community is relatively small, Shia, Sunni, and any other brand of Muslim worship together.  They are comprised of folk from very conservative countries like Saudi Arabia all the way to folk from more "western" cultures like Bosnia, immigrants, students, professors, and folk whose families have been US citizens for generations.  That mix certainly has its tensions, but in large degree they work it out.  Folk from the mosque have also been very involved in the larger interfaith community, building strong relationships with Jews, Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus.  They are both appreciative of and advocates for what more than one of them has called the "genius of America" - freedom of religion.  They have also clearly condemned religious violence and spoken strongly against acts of terrorism.

When I think of Muslims, it is these folk who come to mind.  When I read statements like, "Why aren't moderate Muslims speaking out?" I shake my head and want to point to my friends. 

About a year ago, Muslims in Great Britain have begun a campaign on the web #NotInMyName and the phrase and hashtag is being used all over the world.  Yesterday our local mosque organized a march and vigil to speak out against religious violence, particularly in response to the terrorist act in San Bernadino.  They invited interfaith partners and all people of good will to be part of the event and representatives from every faith tradition and no faith tradition walked with them and stood in silence in memory of those killed. 

I'm not good at estimating crowd sizes (and we all know that pastors tend to exaggerate numbers), but on what Santa Barbarans call a frigid night, I'd guess about 300 people walked, listened to speakers, and stood in silence following the Imam as he and his congregation affirmed that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance and that above all, they desire to be part of the larger American community.

One of the local televisions stations covered the event.  As far as I could see, the others did not.  I picked up this morning's paper - The Santa Barbara News Press - and the headline article with a large photo was that a group of students from Westmont College had gone to the Children's Wing of the local hospital to sing Christmas Carols to the ill children.  The event was not even mentioned.

Now, I have no idea how many similar events have taken place around the country or the world.  I do know that Muslim leaders and Muslim scholars have spoken out again and again against religious extremism and especially against terrorist violence.  If the press does not cover these events, how can "moderate" Muslims get their message out?  To what degree does the media feed off and support the narrative proposed by fanatics?  And in doing just that, are they not complicit?

This message and similar ones are out there...


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